Studying the origin and use of the oldest prehistoric pottery in north Belgium using high-end mass spectrometric methods

Start - End 
2017 - 2021 (ongoing)
Department of Archaeology
Other institution(s) 
Green Chemistry and Technology
Research Focus 
Research Period 
Research Region 
Research Methodology 
Additional tags 
chemical fingerprinting
clay sourcing



Pottery from the Scheldt basin will be analyzed using a range of mass spectrometric methods. The pottery has been dated to the late 6th and 5th millennium BC, indicating that it was produced and used in a period marked by the transition of Mesolithic (hunter-gatherers) to Neolithic (agriculture/cattle breeding). In a first part, laser ablation-ICP-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) will be applied to study the elemental composition of the clay fraction of the pottery. Additionally, methods based on the use of multi-collector ICP-MS will be developed for determination of isotope ratios of Pb, Nd and Sr. Based on the fingerprints obtained, the sherds will be clustered in groups using multivariate data analysis. Furthermore, identification of the pure clay used in  the manufacturing of the pottery will be attempted. The results will provide information on how pottery knowledge and manufacturing spread over Europe. Secondly, food residues absorbed in the pores of the pottery will be extracted and analyzed on a molecular (gas chromatography-MS) and bulk and compound-specific isotopic (liquid chromatography-isotope ratio MS, gas chromatography-isotope ratio MS) level. The presence or absence of specific biomarkers will shed light on the food processed, thus revealing the type of diet, i.e. Mesolithic vs. Neolithic diet. In addition, extraction of food residues can aid in reliable radiocarbon dating of the pottery by providing suited compounds for compound-specific radiocarbon dating.




Pascal Boeckx (co-promoter)

Green chemistry and technology

Frank Vanhaecke

Department of Chemistry (promoter)

Marieke Vannoorenberghe

Department of Chemistry